Pool Exercises For Non Swimmers (A Full Guide)


a group of swimmers holding aqua dumbells in the water

Being in the water is a wonderful experience that is not exclusive to swimmers.

For years, before I learnt to swim, I would attend my local pool, stay in the shallow end and complete a series of pool exercises that gave me a great workout while still feeling part of the pool atmosphere.

It is not necessary to know how to swim to do pool exercises as it is possible to stay in the shallow water, next to the wall or exit ladder. Pool exercises are a great way to build strength, flexibility and endurance, in addition to allowing someone to recoup from an injury. 

As a non-swimmer, you can still go to your local pool, stay in the shallow end and complete a series of exercises that will give you a great workout.

If you cannot swim, you need to take precautions to ensure that you stay in shallow water, always complete your workout in a lifeguarded pool and ensure you can get to the ladder easily to exit the water in case of difficulty.

In this article, I want to look at pool exercises for non-swimmers and cover the following:

  • Is working out in the pool effective?
  • Can I do aqua aerobics if I can’t swim?
  • How many calories does 45 minutes of aqua aerobics burn?
  • Is water aerobics better than walking?
  • Can you lose weight doing pool exercises?
  • What pool exercises burn belly fat?
  • Best pool exercises for non swimmers
  • How to handle yourself in the water if you cannot swim.
  • Best water exercise equipment for non swimmers

Is Working Out In The Pool Effective?

Swimming pools can be very intimidating places if you cannot swim.

If you see advanced swimmers zipping up and down the pool looking professional and serious, you may feel that you do not belong.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is possible to get an excellent and effective workout in the pool as a non-swimmer.

As swimming is a low impact resistive sport, you can get a full-body workout without putting excessive weight or wear on your muscles and joints.

The secret to transitioning from a non-swimmer intimidated by the pool to a confident pool goer, is to understand the following:

  • Stationary pool exercises provide excellent resistance training. They can be very effective at improving muscle tone and improving cardiovascular fitness.
  • Swimming is a low-impact sport, so you can carefully train without putting your joints and muscles under too much wear and tear.
  • You can get an effective workout for your muscles by just being in the water, as the water offers resistance as you try to move through it.
  • There are lots of fitness tools available to help you workout in the water, creating your own personal gym routine.

Pool exercises sometimes get a bad reputation as so many just paddle along in the water without any clear goal or direction.

You may have a friend that goes to the pool every day but has not lost a pound in a month.

If you want to lose belly fat, increase your cardiovascular fitness, increase your endurance, increase your power, tone your abs or target a particular muscle group in your body, you can effectively do this through simple pool exercises that do not require swimming knowledge.

Can I Do Aqua Aerobics If I Can’t Swim?

Aqua aerobics is a workout class, typically done in a group that involves doing gentle and repetitive movements in the water.

As a general rule, you can take part in an aqua aerobics class if you cannot swim.

For the majority of aqua aerobic classes, you will be standing in the water, therefore there is no need to swim. In addition, if you feel you cannot keep your balance in the water, you can always use floats, which are typically provided by the pool, to keep yourself steady.

Some aqua aerobics are done in deep water. Typically, this is specified in the name of the class or some advanced warning is given, as not everyone can cope with deep water.

For example, the class might be called a “Deep Water Workout” or “Deep Aqua Aerobics”.

Even with the classes that take place in deep water, buoyancy aids are usually used. Staying afloat in deep water for 45 minutes is not easy and very few people will have the practised stamina to do this without a buoyance aid.

Personally, I would stay away from deep aqua aerobics if you are very nervous around water.

Although you can tell your teacher that you are not comfortable and stay close to the edge with the buoyancy device on, if you have a fear of deep water, this might be uncomfortable for you.

As a result, your muscles will be very tense as you work out, creating muscle soreness.

How Many Calories Does 45 Minutes Of Aqua Aerobics Burn?

On average, a 45-minute aqua aerobics session will burn between 350 to 450 calories. [source]

How many calories you burn will depend on your size and the amount of intensity you exert in the session.

The one thing I really love about aqua aerobics is that you can take the class at your own pace.

If you are just there to take it easy and gently work your muscles, you can do that. On the other hand, if you are there for a great workout to burn away the calories, you can increase your intensity.

It is a fun and sociable way to burn calories.

Is Water Aerobics Better Than Walking?

Typically, you will burn more calories doing leisurely swimming as opposed to walking.

In addition, water aerobics is a low-impact sport so you will not place unnecessary wear and tear on your joints, unlike walking, which impacts your joints every time your heel strikes the ground.

On average, you can burn 70% more calories doing water aerobics for the same amount of time as walking.

Here is an example of how many calories a person weighing 10 stone (140lbs) can burn over 30minutes for both walking and light swimming. [source]

ActivityPerson WeightExercise LengthCalories Burned
Walking140lbs30 minutes111
Swimming140lbs30 minutes190

If you would like to calculate how many calories you burn doing specific exercises that are tailored to you, check out the free exercise calorie calculator from the World Cancer Research Fund.

Can You Lose Weight Doing Pool Exercises?

Simple pool exercises can help you lose weight, tone your muscles, build your core, and improve your overall health and stamina.

However, from my own experiences of trying to lose weight in the pool, I have found that most of the weight loss is done outside the pool.

Doing pool exercises in combination with a healthy, low-carb diet is one of the most effective ways to lose weight that I have found.

By cutting down on carbs (not cutting them out, just down), your body metabolism switches from sugar burning to fat burning and enters a state of ketosis.

Once you get your body into a state where it is burning ketones for fuel, you are now burning your fat reserves as fuel.

This is the secret I wish I knew years ago. I have covered how you can really lose weight and tone up whiles swimming in greater depth in this blog:

Which Pool Exercises Burn Belly Fat?

For many of us, burning belly fat is a primary goal.

Recent research has shown that targeting belly fat is important, as it is proving to be the most dangerous place to carry fat for your health. [source]

Therefore, measuring a height to waist circumference is an important metric used to predict your risk of metabolic disease.

In the past, Dr Michael Mosley suggests that ideally, your waist measurement should be less than half your height. [source]. For example, if you are 6ft in height (which is 72 inches), your waist measurement around your belly button should be less than 36 inches.

Many of the exercises done in the pool will target belly fat, but some of the better options are:

  • Jogging On The Spot
  • Kicking (either by holding onto the wall or using a kickboard)
  • The Russian Twist

If your main aim is to burn belly fat and get abs, this is an impressive and big goal which is covered in greater detail in this article, “Can Swimming Give You Abs? (The facts and road to success)”

Best Pool Exercises For Non Swimmers

There are lots of really great pool exercises for non-swimmers. Just being in the water and being active is a good basic exercise for your body.

Best water exercises for seniors
Best water exercises for seniors

Here are my favourite pool exercises and exercises I used to do extensively in the shallow end before I developed into a confident swimmer.

I still often will do these exercises if the lanes are busy or need a break from swimming laps.

1. Jogging On The Spot

It is possible to jog on the spot in the water. Jogging in water is a great workout as you get all the benefits of running, but without the risk of impact injury on your joints.

To jog in the pool, stand upright in one position and jog as if you were on land.

If you want to increase the intensity, you can jog forward through the water. This will work your heart and lungs and also offer resistance to your muscles, which will build strength.

I find it can really help to lift my knees high when doing this, as it increases the intensity of the exercise.

2. Balance On One Leg

This might seem easy, but trying to balance on one leg in a busy pool can be tricky as the waves and movement of the water will push you off balance.

Simply, stand on one foot, or on the toes of one foot. Stick your other leg out to help you balance.

As you try to hold your position, you will tense your muscles and work against the water resistance, which is a muscle toning exercise.

3. Balance On A Pool Noddle

A pool noodle is a long and narrow bendy float that can be a great water exercise tool.

Place the pool noodle under your arms and try to rest on it and float. Try to lie flat, but with your head out of the water.

By trying to stabilise yourself in this position, you will work your core muscles.

4. Kicking

Kicking in the water is a great way to work your core and burn belly fat.

You can either hold on to the side of the wall, with your legs behind you and kick.

Alternatively, you can use swim aids such as a kickboard to move around the pool.

If you are a non-swimmer using a kickboard, ensure you do not place too much strain on your lower back. As non-swimmers don’t usually like to keep their face in the water, they may arch their back to keep their head up out of the water. This will cause the legs to sink, making it harder to move, and an arched back may cause injury if it is not a natural spinal position. If using a kickboard, try to maintain a neutral position in the water, where you feel comfortable. I have cover how to use a kickboard in greater depth in this article, “Are Kickboards Good For Swimming?”

5. The Russian Twist

The Russian Twist is a very common water aerobic exercise.

It can also be done on land is claimed to be a good exercise to burn belly fat.

It involves twisting your upper and lower body in the water to work your core muscles. The following is a good demonstration of how to do the Russian Twist in the water.

Some variations to the Russian Twist involve holding water dumbbells while moving the arms to increase intensity and give your arm muscles a greater workout.

6. Use Water Dumbbells

There is a water specific type of dumbbell called a water dumbbell or aqua weight.

These are made from foam, so are very light to carry to the pool. However, once they get wet, they absorb water and get heavy.

Just like using dumbbells on dry-land, it is possible to use these water dumbbells in the pool to work your core muscles and upper body muscles.

7. Alternative Workouts

There are many alternative ways to move your body in the water to get a good exercise.

Here is a wonderful video showing some alternative pool exercises. When I watch videos like this, it becomes clear that you can be inventive and use your imagination to have fun and workout in the pool.

How To Handle Yourself In The Water If You Cannot Swim

All the pool exercises mentioned so far can be done in the shallow end of the pool, however, it is important to be able to handle yourself around water if you cannot swim in order to stay safe.

As someone who used to be terrified of the water, I understand that even the shallow end can be a danger for non-swimmers, therefore it is important to know what to do if you get scared or panicked in the water.

If someone knocks you over in the shallow end, will you be OK to find your balance and walk to safety?

Here are some things I have learned from being a nervous pool goer.

1. Be Alert & Stay In The Shallow End

If you cannot swim, do not go out of your depth.

It is important that you stay in the shallow end, however, if you become distracted or lose your position, you may find yourself moving out of your depth.

Always stay alert and conscious of what depth of water you are in by ensuring your feet can always feel the floor beneath you.

2. Only Swim With A Friend Or Lifeguarded Pool

If you are not comfortable in the water, go to the pool with a friend or only attend lifeguarded pool.

At the end of the day, your safety is your own responsibility, so only stick to a water depth that you are comfortable with.

3. Practice Water Balance

In a busy pool, it can be easy to get knocked around and lose your balance.

If you are not a swimmer, you should practice keeping your balance and know what to do if you lose your stability in the water.

You should be able to get yourself upright and stand up again.

4. Practice Dipping Your Face In The Water

Many non-swimmers hate getting their face wet.

If you are not used to getting your head submerged in the water, if it happens by accident due to lack of balance, it will come as a big and scary shock.

With a friend present, stand in the shallow end of the pool next to the wall or the ladder.

Holding the wall or the ladder, dip your head underneath the water for a second to learn what it feels like to have your head submerged.

Once you get used to this feeling, it will not come as a shock if it happens in an uncontrolled situation.

5. Learn To Float

Floating is the number one water survival skill.

Everybody can float, but you need to relax and lie back in the water to do so.

Learning to float can save your life and if you ever find yourself in a tricky or uncontrolled water situation, the official advice from the RNLI is to get on your back and float.

Floating can allow you space to breathe, calm down and think.

Best Water Exercise Equipment For Non Swimmers

There are some great tools and swimming aids available on the market to help make your pool exercises and workout routine more interesting.

Here are some of my favourite pieces of water exercise equipment.

Below are some of the best swim goggles for small faces.

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Aqua Floatation Dumbbells

  • Lovely soft foam
  • Very comfortable to hold
  • These are a larger size, which offers a higher level of resistance

Price Range: £10-£20

[View on Amazon]

Aqua Buoyancy Swimming Belt

  • Comfortable to wear
  • This size is small, but ensure you pick the right size for you.
  • Adjustable straps

Price Range: £12-£20

[View on Amazon]

COMFY AQUAFIT Aqua Aerobic Noodle

  • Strong and flexible structure
  • The size can vary, so consider the length in relation to your wingspan.

Note: It can be difficult to find a nice quality pool noodle you are happy with. Ask your local pool if they have some lying around you can try out for free?

Price Range: £5-£15

[View on Amazon]

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Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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